Saturday, June 28, 2014

NYAFF ’14: The White Storm

Eight-Faced Buddha is the Al Sharpton of Thai drug lords. That ridiculous coif should be sufficient grounds to throw his butt in jail. However, he also has an extensive body count to his credit and a massive wave of heroin headed towards Hong Kong. The only thing standing in its way is an extremely tired undercover cop, his handler, and their boss and mutual boyhood chum. Their friendship will be severely strained in Benny Chan’s action conflagration The White Storm (trailer here), which screens during the 2014 New York Asian Film Festival.

So Kin-chau is due for some R&R with his very pregnant wife, but Chief Inspector Ma Ho-tin keeps sending him out for one more sting. They were supposed to finally bust his longtime target Black Chai, but when Ma learns the trafficker has a deal in the works with Eight-Faced, So must engineer a last minute escape for the both of them. So reluctantly goes deep undercover with Black Chai with only Ma, their third Musketeer Cheung Chi-wai, and another honest HK colleague for back-up.

Frankly, the boundary between cops and criminals in Thailand is rather porous. Ma and his colleagues have to go rogue just to foil the crooked cops trying to rat out So. Unfortunately, when Ma’s game-changing operation goes wrong, it goes massively, cinematically wrong. It will fatally sabotage his career and plague his conscience for years, until a big twist suggests his guilt might be a tad misplaced.

There is nothing subtle about White Storm. It is all about projectile explosions and brooding, but it truly delivers some awesome over-the-top action spectacle. Nothing is off the table including a romance with Eight-Faced’s transgendered daughter, Mina Wei. Arguably, that is the most sensitively rendered element of this delirious gun-down. Evidently, Nick Cheung’s steamy publicity photo shoot with the transgender beauty queen Treechada “Poyd” Malayaporn raised quite a few eyebrows in HK, so mission accomplished.

In fact, all three big name leads are in fine form throughout. Louis Koo’s So slow burns like nobody’s business, while Sean Lau Ching-wan compellingly portrays Ma’s rapid descent from hot shot to a self-loathing shell of a man. However, Cheung takes viewers on the wildest character arc as his rapidly evolving namesake. Vithaya Pansringarm, who stole just about every scene in Only God Forgives, also turns up, playing a far more ethically ambiguous cop, but he is criminally under-employed.

While White Storm indulges in quite a bit of exotic Thai exoticism, Chan never strays too far from an old school hail of bullets. Its super-charged energy level and tragic sensibilities follow in the tradition of some of the best HK action films. Highly recommended for fans of Hong Kong Cinema and the big name cast, The White Storm screens tomorrow (6/29) at the Walter Reade Theater, as part of this year’s NYAFF.